“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” (Peter Drucker) That quote is from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.
Most of us look for signs when communicating, to try to discern what is really being said. We may look at the eyes of the speaker or how they are holding themselves. We also listen to the tempo and timber of their voice, looking for signs of distress, fear or anger. We are searching for those non-verbal clues that help us understand what we are hearing. One of the fascinating things about the TV show The Voice is that the four stars who are listening and choosing singers for their teams don’t get to see them until they turn their chairs. Quite often, they are surprised when they turn around. They are judging the singers purely on the sound of their voice. I also recall the look of total shock on the faces of the judges when Susan Boyle started to sing on America’s Got Talent. They had all prejudged her based on her appearance and speaking voice. Many of us fall into that trap when we prejudge people on their appearance, especially when we let race creep into our judgements.
Sometimes, when the person speaking is trying to hide their emotions, it is difficult to “hear” the cries for help that are being transmitted. Stoic people can be especially hard to “read”. Sometimes one needs to focus upon the context of the conversation to gain insight into the situation. A person may try to very matter-of-factly drop something into a conversation, as if it doesn’t really matter, when they are, in fact, asking for help. Other times you may hear some sad news, but it is delivered in such a way that you know the speaker is all right. Perhaps just a commiserating reply is sufficient in those cases. Offering the support of understanding and friendship is all that may be needed.
There are all sorts of books and articles about “body language” and how to look for and recognize the signs that are there in a person’s mannerisms and how they are holding themselves during the conversation. Books like Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg, offer advice on some of the non-verbal cues that can affect success in the business world. The important thing is to be aware of the many non-verbal things that are going on in any encounter.
Being a good listener means not only listening to the words that are being said, but also taking into consideration all that is not being said and adding those factors into the experience and into your responses. Are you a good listener? Many people are so wrapped up in what they are going to say next that they miss both the verbal and non-verbal context of the conversation. Force yourself to really listen to what is being said and to look closely at what is not being said. You will get more out of the conversation and you will be able to contribute more to meeting the needs of the other person, whether they say they have needs or not.
You don’t have to be a great speaker to be a great communicator, but you do have to know that what is being said is only a part of the communications that is going on. Great communicator’s pickup on all that is being said (verbal and non-verbal) and react to the whole message. What do you see when you’re talking to someone? Say what?